Myanmar rebels free lawmaker abducted in attack on boat

YANGON (REUTERS) - Ethnic minority rebels in Myanmar have released a lawmaker held hostage for two months in a bid to reduce tension in the war-torn western state of Rakhine, a human rights group and the rebels said.

Rights groups had urged the Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting for greater autonomy, to release the member of parliament for the ruling National League for Democracy party, who was seized in an attack on a boat in November.

The insurgency in Rakhine State poses a serious threat to the government of Aung San Suu Kyi in an increasingly lawless region already destabilised by a military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

More than 730,000 Rohingyas fled the crackdown in 2017, a campaign that UN investigators said was carried out with"genocidal intent".

The ethnic Rakhine rebels accused the lawmaker, Hawi Tin, who is a member of the mostly Christian Chin ethnic group, of passing on information about their activities to the authorities.

He was abducted on Nov 3 while travelling by boat with several Indian nationals, one of whom was killed. The others were quickly set free.

"Hawi Tin is home now," said Salai Lian, a spokesman for the Chin Human Rights Organisation.

Salai Lian called on the insurgents to account for other Chin civilians caught up in the conflict.

"They are caught between and treated badly by both parties, the army and the AA," he said.

A spokesman for the AA told Reuters they had released Hawi Tin to improve relations between ethnic groups in the region.

The AA was formed in 2009 but had kept a relatively low-profile before a surge in fighting erupted a year ago when rebels attacked four police stations.

The government has vowed to crush the rebels, sending thousands of troops into Rakhine and cutting off the internet across the region.

The rebels have increasingly turned to kidnapping, seizing dozens of people in recent months from buses and boats, while suspected informers have been detained in villages, according to officials, the rebels and media reports.

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